Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's the Little Things We Do and Undiscovered Talent

Many years ago I taught middle school math in a small K-8 school in Central Maine. Each year our 8th grade students had a ceremony that celebrated their transition from this K-8 building into the high school. It resembled a high school graduation in many ways (although no one in the school dared to call it one but that is a conversation for another day) including speeches by some of the top students.

One of my last years teaching in that school I found myself listening to Nick, one of my students, give a speech about his years in this building. In his address he noted me particularly for being a caring teacher who looked out for his students. My initial responses to this statement were pride and joy that Nick felt that way and expressed it in this venue. One of the examples he cited was a situation earlier in the year when I called his house when he was injured playing with some friends to see how he was doing. At the time I didn't see this phone call as a tremendous feat of caring. I really didn't think much of it at all. I just wanted to make sure he was ok, find out if he knew when he'd be returning to school and to see if he needed anything from school.

As I thought about Nick's statements my pride and joy turned to anxiety. I started thinking about how many little interactions had I shared with students that I didn't think much about that were not so positive? It really hit me how powerful my interactions, as an educator, are with students. It really is a matter of all the little things we do that makes all the difference in the world. From that day on, I have tried to be more careful of quick flip responses and how I interact with students (as well as other teachers).

Now... why am I writing a blog post approximately ten years later about Nick and his 8th grade speech?

I read a great post today by Scott McLeod about Paul Potts and Susan Boyle who have shown tremendous talent at later ages on the hit show, 'Britain's Got Talent.' In the post Scott writes...

As schools and societies, we often fail to create the conditions in which talent can be nurtured, recognized, and utilized.
Reading this made me think about the little things we do (and don't do) with kids and how so many students can slip through the cracks - flying under everyone's radar like Potts and Boyle. Let's reach out to the Nick's of the world and look carefully for those little things that happen everyday as students show up glimpses of their talent.

No Daily Bookmarks for You

I decided to stop automatically posting my links from my Diigo account to this blog. If you'd like to follow my Diigo bookmarks you can subscribe to the feed for my account. I have been writing more to my blog lately and find it annoying to weed through the daily bookmark posts.

I added a sidebar widget that will display the last 5 sites I have added to Diigo if you visit my blog page.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Daily Bookmarks 04/16/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Teaching Parents About Facebook and Internet Safety

About a month and a half ago I was asked by our PTO to host a viewing of Growing Up Online by PBS Frontline and facilitate a discussion after. The session was attended by approximately a dozen parents who were interested in learning more about keeping their children safe online. We had some great discussions about the program and what some of these parents were doing with their children.

My message to parents about keeping their children safe online is fairly simple. Parents in my community are a large part of their children's offline lives. I push them to become as much a part of their children's online lives. I use the analogy of the Internet being very much like a large city (plenty of places and people you'd be ok with them getting to know and many you'd like to keep them far away from). I don't know any parents who would just drop their children off in the middle of a large city in the morning telling them "have a good time today... I'll pick you up at 8pm." They also would never allow a friend "to show them the ropes" either. Why on earth would they allow that to happen on the Internet? I feel that parents need to get involved with online services like chat, social networking, etc. so that they can communicate with their children in these arenas. Otherwise their children's online lives become a private place where their parents do not belong. If you bring your children to these online services and teach them how you'd like them to use them at a young age (legal age for Facebook is 13) it will not be something that they will push you away from. If a parent never disciplined a child until he/she was 15 they'd have some real problems. Not being part of their online lives until their children are immersed in these worlds is very much the same. Parents do need to allow their children to grow and slowly allow them more freedom with their online lives as they get older (just like they do offline).

So back to my evening with the PTO...

As I was speaking with some of the parents after the PTO meeting, I got the idea of holding another night to help parents become acquainted with social networking. My co-workers in the district (Alice Barr and Cathy Wolinsky) and I developed a plan for our evening and put it out to the parents. We held this evening session on Monday night and it was absolutely amazing. We had approximately 35 parents show up for our session on setting up an account on Facebook. We wanted to appeal to parents who were not comfortable getting started on their own so we kept the goals for the night fairly simple. We taught them how to:

  • Set up an account
  • Add friends
  • Set privacy settings they were comfortable with
  • Join a group for parents in our town (we planted that one with one of the parents)
We piled all of these parents into one room and everyone was on a computer so it was very hands-on. While they were learning how to navigate around the Facebook site they helped each other wonderfully and had great conversations about their thoughts regarding their children using these sites.

Alice, Cathy and I were clear right from the beginning in our motives for holding this event. We find that many parents are not involved in social networking and get caught up in the media frenzy surrounding these sites and their children's safety. We wanted to make them comfortable with Facebook so they could make good decisions about how they want to proceed with their children - not just deny their children access out of fear of the unknown. We were clear that we don't have all the answers. This is parenting at its best and there is no one solution that will work for all kids. We had a great mix of parents with children ranging from elementary through high school ages. This mix allowed for some great interaction for parents who are already in the middle of it all and parents just getting the questions from their children about becoming involved in the online world.

Here's the list of resources we shared with the parents who attended this session:

Thoughts on Facebook - Cornell University
All in the Facebook Family: Older Generations Join Social Networks - CNN
100 Awesome Facebook Apps for Productivity and Learning - Select Courses
How to Survive the New Facebook - Mashable
Facebook for Parents - Common Sense Media
10 Privacy Settings All Facebook Users Should Know -

Image Attribution:

Image: 'Street Sign II'

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Daily Bookmarks 04/08/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Are You a Social Media Snob: My Response

First of all I must say that I never thought that my post would get picked up the way it did. I am absolutely floored by the tremendous conversation that has taken place in the past week over my post, "Are You a Social Media Snob if You Do Not Follow Many People on Twitter." I really enjoyed reading the views of everyone who commented on the post. I especially would like to thank the folks that were mentioned in the post that took the time to leave a comment (Dean Shareski, Lee Kolbert, Vicki Davis, Liz Davis, Kevin Jarrett (you are not the first to tell me I'm all wet ;-)), Lucy Gray, and Mike Sansone).

I found some interesting threads in the conversations that took place in the comments and would like to elaborate on the following:

  1. Twitter should be used as each person wants to use it.
  2. Most educators tend to follow others.
  3. I'm not calling anyone a snob.
Probably the most echoed comment was that Twitter, like any other tool, should be able to be used as any individual sees fit. I couldn't agree with this more. I didn't write this post with the intent to create a set of rules that I felt educators (or anyone else) should follow when it comes to who they follow on Twitter. I feel that you get out of Twitter what you put into it. The more people you include in your professional learning community the more info you'll get from it. The more you contribute and help others the more will help you. It really is a matter of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Between what I posted in this post and "My Twitter Evolution" post I've made it pretty clear how I follow people on Twitter. I will follow most people who follow me on Twitter except for:
  • Bots
  • Marketers
  • Spammers
  • People who use offensive language (I read this at school too)
  • People in the adult entertainment industry
I have found some folks get a little annoying with too many posts that are not what I'm looking to read. I love Vicki Davis' idea of taking a "tweetcation" from them for a while.

The ability to personalize my use of Twitter is a big part of the draw for me. I don't mind some posts about people's personal lives because it helps me get to know them as an individual - not just professionally.

I hope that no one on the list felt that I was calling them a snob (despite the title of the post). I must say that the two individuals at the top of the list have contributed greatly to my work. I remember the first time I saw David Warlick speak at the Christa McAuliffe conference in 2004. I quickly ordered his "Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century" book as well as some his other works over the past few years. I have used (and suggested to many other educators) several of his resources on the web. I don't know of anyone in the edtech community that gives as much for free. His blog, podcast, and vast array of web resources demonstrates his dedication to the edtech community. I have also had the privilege to see Will Richardson present on multiple occasions. David and Will are the first two individuals I started following when I first set up my Bloglines account several years ago. I have really enjoyed reading their thoughts and stories over the years. If you haven't read Will's book, "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms" you really should give it a look.

Despite my high level of respect for these two individuals I really find their Twitter numbers confusing. They both are champions of professional learning networks and demonstrate Twitter to thousands of educators every year but follow very few people. I think I mostly agree with Lucy Gray's comment,
"I guess I shouldn't be judgmental about other Twitterers (who really knows their circumstances and motives), but I am somewhat. I do think that if people are in the public eye with this stuff and are already tweeting, they should consider how they are staying in touch with the people that admire their work. We all should be learning from each other!"
I don't have a problem with the fact that neither of them follow me (there are plenty of people out there that contribute more to Twitter than I do). I just question why they follow so few. As I mentioned above, I don't believe there should be "rules" to Twitter use so I'll just chalk it up to them both using the tool as they see best.

Thanks again to eveyone in my professional learning network for making this conversation so rich.

My Daily Bookmarks 04/07/2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Are you Making it Easier or Harder to Use Technology?

I was attending a meeting today with a bunch of tech coordinators discussing extending Maine's laptop initiative into high schools. I always find these meetings really interesting. The technical people always want to discuss security of networks, locking down users' privileges and making it difficult for those little angels to screw up their machines.

One of the representatives from Apple Computer mentioned that Apple gives it's employees full access to their equipment (yes administrative access). It made me think about what I do as a technology leader in my building. I seem to have a different view of my role from some of the others in this meeting today. I see my role as one that removes the barriers from teachers and students to technology - not creating hurdles that they must jump over to get to the learning. Is it more important to have the most secure network and equipment or to have people pushing the envelope and doing great things with the technology? I'd rather see teachers spending their time planning innovative projects that use technology to improve learning for all learners than trying to figure out how to get around all the locks on their machines and the network.

If you're a teacher I hope you have a technology department that supports your ideas of using technology to improve student learning.

If you're a technology leader I hope you strive to remove the barriers between your teachers and their technology use in the classroom. If nothing is happening on your networks and machines it really doesn't matter how secure you are.

Image Attribution:

Image: 'Cardinal Health picnic'

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Daily Bookmarks 04/02/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

My Twitter Evolution

I'm still thinking about yesterday's post, "Are you a snob..." and the great comments I received. It made me think of my own use of Twitter and how it's changed over time. I started with Twitter when it was very new after reading about it on TechCrunch. At that time the majority of my professional development came from the RSS feeds I was following and reading on a daily basis.

Phase 1 of my Twitter experience was about a year of doing pretty much nothing with it. I really just didn't get it. Over time my network started to grow on Twitter and I started spending more and more time following the discussions going on there. As I spent more time on Twitter I found more and more people I enjoyed following and some that just annoyed me. I saw Twitter as a stream of information that I had to read every piece of - like email.

Phase 2 of my Twitter experience followed shortly after this as my network grew and grew. I found myself spending more time on Twitter and really letting my RSS aggregator suffer (there's only so much time in a day). I started using separate applications to follow my tweets like Snitter and Twhirl.

Phase 3 has just begun over the past month or so. I have switched my Twitter client to TweetDeck which has changed everything. I learned so much from this video from Jesse Newhart on "How to Effectively Follow 15000+ Users on Twitter... ." I don't believe I'll be looking to get quite that high anytime soon, but the lessons I learned from him have really helped me gain some balance back between my RSS aggregator and Twitter.

I would imagine most people have different experiences with the use of Twitter and their evolution would have some similarities and some differences. I agree with the comments from yesterday's post that how you use Twitter is completely up to you. You must evolve with it to make it the most useful tool for you. I find it as a great way to keep up with great tools, thoughts, and happenings in the EdTech world. I feel that Bill Ferriter (aka The Tempered Radical) put it very well...

I think the trap that we fall into when we use any social networking application for professional work is forgetting that the tool is about facilitating learning, not being popular. Judging one's influence through numbers overlooks the real purpose for jumping into any digital conversation.

I don't use Twitter to see how many thousands of people I can get to follow me (which should be pretty easy to see if you visit my Twitter page). I use it to facilitate my own professional learning and to expand my professional learning network. I must agree that I really don't care if the 'EdTech Rockstars' follow me or not. I'm just glad they are sharing what they are doing on Twitter.

Image Attribution:

Image: 'Twitter bird logo icon illustration'